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May 8, 2015

New type of Bible with African-American history

By Arlene Edmonds, Philadelphia Tribune Correspondent

The portraits of a dark-skinned Jesus, the reflective blurbs refined urban vernacular, and the historical references to Africa in the scriptures are just some of the things that set the new African American Catholic Youth Bible apart. The recently released publication offers something for even those beyond its targeted 14- to 24-year-old Black audience. Its release is timely on the eve of Pope Francis’ first visit for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September.

Gloria Purvis, one of the book’s copy editors, insists that this is a reference Bible that should be in every church library or on the shelf of anyone interested in African-American history and culture. In fact, Purvis thinks it should be to as many young Christians or those of any faith in the Delaware Valley area as possible.

“This is the word of God showing how scripture and tradition are important,” Purvis said. “We have to understand that our children are under a great deal of pressure. They have to be spiritually grounded and rooted in scripture. They need this along with the sacraments to persevere and survive these difficult times.”

Purvis, who often appears as a Catholic commentator on EWTN, said that originally she was to be one of the writers for the publication. She found that she was better at critiquing and editing the copy of others than actually creating articles that were readable for a young adult audience. The process of working with the other editors and consultants proved to be rewarding.

“There was some level of discussions during the process about how African Americans always compared themselves to the Israelites,” Purvis said. “We have a unique understanding of the need for a Messiah because of having gone through slavery. But, this Bible shows that Africans were Christians during the early part of Christianity. So, there’s even a lot of African-American history in this Bible.”

“Saint Mary’s Press and the National Black Catholic Congress have been working over the last five years to produce this first ever Catholic youth Bible for African American youth,” said Valerie Washington, executive director of the Baltimore based NBCC. St. Mary’s Press is located in Winona, Minn.

The Bible came about through a process much like a peer-reviewed journal, according to Washington. The Bible’s managing editor is the Rev. James Chukwuma Okoye, the chair of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. During book production, he was a professor of Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

During production, he was joined in a panel of other African and African-American theologians as well as Catholic bishops and priests. Additionally, to attract the Bible to its primary audience there were also youth ministers, high school and undergraduate college educators, and writers who have experience working with young people to round out the panel. Some of these came from the Philadelphia area. The publication was fact-checked, reviewed and carefully refined since 2009 before it was released this year.

“It was our intent to make this something African-American youth could see iconographic images of Jesus Christ, the apostles and prophets who looked like them to readily appeal to Black youths and Black people in general,” said Bishop John Ricard, who presided over the publication’s board sessions.

“The themes are important in the context of scripture. It is also historical. I think the result is appealing to all youths and young adults, but especially our African-American youths. We want it to reach the entire Catholic community and the young community, but we also made sure that it would appeal to the widest audience possible,” Ricard said.

Yet this is not the only publication that the NBCC is distributing this year. They are also sending their network copies of the study guide, “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World of Peace 2015” by Bishop Edward Braxton. “The NBCC has recently received a copy of it from Bishop Braxton. This study guide (like the Bible) can be used by large or small groups in schools, parishes or study groups,” Washington said.